March 10 vs. San Jose Sharks at SAP Center
Time: 4:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: 106.7 FM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 37-23-7
San Jose Sharks 35-22-9
The Caps conclude their annual California tour up north on Saturday afternoon when they take on the Sharks in San Jose. They’ll be seeking to avoid a third straight regulation loss for the first time this season, and they’ll also be seeking to avoid heading home from California empty-handed for the second straight campaign.
This season’s journey through The Golden State started with a 4-0 loss to the Ducks in Anaheim on Tuesday. Two nights later, the Caps dropped a 3-1 decision to the Kings in Los Angeles, their eighth consecutive loss (0-6-2) in L.A. and their seventh straight setback (0-6-1) in the state of California.
They need a win or a point from Saturday’s game against the Sharks to avoid heading home from California empty-handed for the second straight season. The Caps dropped three straight in regulation in the Golden State last March, a stretch that became part of one of just two four-game regulation losing streaks the Caps have suffered during Barry Trotz’s four seasons behind the team’s bench.
Washington seems to have regressed to its early season form. The Caps started the 2017-18 campaign with a 11-10-1 mark through their first 22 games, but they caught fire in the second quarter and posted a 16-3-2 mark in their next 21 contests. But over the last two months, the Caps have gone 10-10-4, and, as was the case in the first quarter of the season, they seem unable to establish any sort of consistency.
If you were to take out that hot 21-game stretch in the middle of this season, the Caps are an unexciting 21-20-5 over the rest of the season, in what amounts to more than half of a regular season schedule.
In the last several weeks, the Caps have authored a couple of solid 60-minute efforts in 5-2 victories over a couple of pretty good hockey teams: the Wild in Minnesota on Feb. 15 and the Maple Leafs in Annapolis on March 3. But the Caps followed the win over the Wild with perhaps their worst overall outing of the last decade, a 7-1 loss to the Blackhawks in Chicago. And Tuesday’s Anaheim shutout loss came in the immediate aftermath of the victory over the Leafs in the Stadium Series game.
Washington played better in Los Angeles on Thursday, but its attack was reduced to sawdust, which seems to be the order of the day when the Capitals come out west. They’ve scored two or fewer goals in seven of their last eight games in California, and even in their last victory out here – a 2-1 shootout win over the Ducks in Anaheim on March 7, 2016 – they scored just one goal.
Down 2-1 heading into the third period of Thursday’s game against the Kings, the Caps were unable to record a shot on net until the seventh minute of the third period. That T.J. Oshie shot came on the power play and turned out to be the only shot the Caps could squeeze off on goal during a span in which they had an extra skater for virtually four straight minutes.
“If you get that game tied up,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz, “you probably generate some excitement on the bench and you’re right there. We had back-to-back [power plays] and I thought [the Kings] got a little momentum from that.
“Sometimes you get a little bit too cute. We’re going to have to get a little bit dirty here, and get into some of those hard areas. I thought [Kings goalie Jonathan] Quik was really good when we had our looks, and we’ve got to find a way to get the back of the net a little bit more. We’ve got one goal in the last two games here.”
Washington managed only five shots on net in the third period of Thursday’s loss, including one that game from about 150 feet from the Los Angeles net. The Caps were held without a shot on goal for more than seven minutes in the middle of that final frame against the Kings.
Trotz tweaked his forward lines at Friday’s practice in San Jose, splitting up Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and making wholesale changes up and down his forward ranks. Tom Wilson, who took a shot to the face midway through the game against the Kings, suffered a broken nose but came back to play the third period. Wilson did not practice on Friday, but it was termed a “maintenance day” for him, and he is expected to suit up and play on Saturday in San Jose.
San Jose added dangerous winger and Caps killer Evander Kane at the trade deadline. Kane has a goal and five points in four games since coming to the Sharks, and San Jose is 3-1-0 in those four contests.
All three of these California teams are competing for positioning behind front-running Vegas in the NHL’s Pacific Division standings. San Jose goes into Friday’s slate of NHL activity as the occupant of second place in the division, with 81 points, the same total the Capitals have accrued to date. Anaheim is in third with 80 points and the Kings are running fourth with 79.
If the Caps thought they had trouble dealing with the Kings’ second-ranked penalty killing outfit, they’re headed to the only other rung up the ladder on Saturday. San Jose’s 84.7% penalty kill success rate is tops in the league this season.
The Sharks are 32-for-36 (88.9%) on the kill since the NHL’s All-Star break. San Jose has been perfect on the kill in its last half dozen games, going 11-for-11 over that span.
The Sharks are on the back half of a six-game homestand. They’re 3-1-0 on the homestand to date, with Detroit coming to town on Monday to close it out. Most recently, the Sharks blanked the St. Louis Blues here on Thursday night by a 2-0 count, getting a power-play goal from Mikkel Boedker to break an 0-for-28 run with the extra man over their previous dozen games.